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Country View loses top administrator during budget process

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County’s efforts to keep Country View afloat are growing more difficult.

The county-run nursing and mental health care center’s top two administrative officials are leaving in February as the Board of Supervisors debates how to plug a projected $2.5 million shortfall in the facility’s operating budget next year.

Dennis Coleman, who has served as administrator at Country View for two and a half years, has resigned effective Feb. 21. Assistant Administrator Genevieve Shafer had previously submitted her resignation effective Feb. 9.

“I want to thank the board for the trust that was placed with me in the leadership role at Country View,” Coleman said in his resignation notice. “It will always be appreciated.”

Craig White, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, said the board expects to appoint an interim administrator while it explores options for managing the nursing center in the long term.

Coleman and Shafer join other departures at Country View, which is reportedly struggling to fill vacant positions and maintain staff morale as the supervisors publicly discuss how to handle mounting deficits.

Supervisor Chris Schwartz during a budget work session Tuesday questioned whether the board’s commitment to keeping Country View open would help the staffing situation.

“If the future was a little bit more certain I think that would relieve a lot of people’s concerns,” Shafer replied. “It would probably make employment more stable and help us to attract the better employees we want.”

County Finance Director Susan Deaton said a preliminary budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, calls for a $418,000, or 1.1 percent, overall increase in county property tax collection.

Adding the projected $2.5 million in additional revenue to subsidize Country View next year would boost that tax increase to nearly $3 million, or 7.8 percent. And that number could grow because County Social Services is considering plans to reduce its $1.1 million contribution to the Country View budget.

Board members discussed options such as tapping cash reserves or delaying capital improvement projects to cover some of Country View’s expenses. The board used $2 million in reserves this year to pay the facility’s bills.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable taxing for the full amount,” said Supervisor Frank Magsamen. “If we’re going to be in this long term, we could look at $3 million to $4 million (each year).”

Magsamen and Supervisor Linda Laylin both suggested the county look at moving nursing home clients from Country View to other facilities when feasible. Laylin said the county needs to look at those options before asking the taxpayers to pick up the remaining losses.

“The people out there, most of the other nursing homes don’t want them … because they’re hard to work with,” White replied. “But they’re still human beings.”

Country View is one of just two county-run nursing homes in Iowa. The other, Sunnycrest in Dubuque, receives a $3 million operating subsidy and gets another $1 million in taxes for capital improvements each year.

Black Hawk County officials said Country View’s main problem is Medicaid reimbursement rates for clients cover only 80 percent of the cost of their care. Extremely high use of Family Medical Leave Act leave also boosts costs by requiring the use of temporary staffing agencies.

Schwartz said he was not in favor of closing or attempting to privatize Country View.

“I haven’t had a single email, I haven’t had a single phone call from anyone who says those folks aren’t a priority,” Schwartz said. “I want to see it included in this year’s budget.

“We’ve got 170 good-paying union jobs that support a lot of working families in our community,” he said. “I don’t want to see us lose those. I don’t want to see those unions get busted.”

Magsamen said he shared Schwartz’s concerns, but noted the difficulty of having a county run a nursing home.

“The disadvantage we have as a county is we have one facility to operate,” he said. “In the business world, they have multiple facilities that they can draw on (shared) resources.”

Country View currently is home to 132 residents in both its nursing center and intermediate care facility for the intellectually disabled.

Board members are expected to consider budget deliberations Thursday.

Trump calls for unity on immigration, infrastructure in State of the Union

WASHINGTON — Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump summoned the country to a “new American moment” of unity in his first State of the Union address, challenging Congress to make good on long-standing promises to fix a fractured immigration system and warning darkly of evil forces seeking to undermine America’s way of life.

Trump’s address Tuesday night blended self-congratulation and calls for optimism amid a growing economy with ominous warnings about deadly gangs, the scourge of drugs and violent immigrants living in the United States illegally. He cast the debate over immigration — an issue that has long animated his most ardent supporters — as a battle between heroes and villains, leaning heavily on the personal stories of White House guests in the crowd. He praised a law enforcement agent who arrested more than 100 gang members, and he recognized the families of two alleged gang victims.

He also spoke forebodingly of catastrophic dangers from abroad, warning that North Korea would “very soon” threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.

“The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world,” Trump said. “But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.”

Trump addressed the nation with tensions running high on Capitol Hill. An impasse over immigration prompted a three-day government shutdown earlier this year, and lawmakers appear no closer to resolving the status of the “Dreamers” — young people living in the U.S. illegally ahead of a new Feb. 8 deadline for funding operations. The parties have also clashed this week over the plans of Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation involving Trump’s presidential campaign — a decision the White House backs but the Justice Department is fighting.

The controversies that have dogged Trump — and the ones he has created— have overshadowed strong economic gains during his first year in office. His approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

At times, Trump’s address appeared to be aimed more at validating his first year in office than setting the course for his second. He devoted significant time to touting the tax overhaul he signed at the end of last year, promising the plan will “provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.” He also highlighted the decision made early in his first year to withdraw the U.S. from a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade pact, declaring: “The era of economic surrender is totally over.”

He spoke about potential agenda items for 2018 in broad terms, including a call for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending and partnerships with states and the private sector. He touched only briefly on issues like health care that have been at the center of the Republican Party’s policy agenda for years.

Tackling the sensitive immigration debate that has roiled Washington, Trump redoubled his recent pledge to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants — but only as part of a package that would also require increased funding for border security, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the nation’s visa lottery method and revamping the current legal immigration system.

“Americans are dreamers too,” Trump said, in an apparent effort to reclaim the term used to describe the young immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

A former New York Democrat, the president also played to the culture wars that have long illuminated American politics, alluding to his public spat with professional athletes who led protests against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, declaring that paying tribute to the flag is a “civic duty.”

In a post-speech rebuttal, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was seeking to undercut Trump’s optimistic tone and remind voters of the personal insults and attacks often leveled by the president.

“Bullies may land a punch,” Kennedy said. “They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”

The arc of Trump’s 80-minute speech featured the personal stories of men and women who joined first lady Melania Trump in the audience. The guests included a New Mexico policeman and his wife who adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, and Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea and outspoken critic of the Kim Jong-un government.

On international affairs, Trump warned of the dangers from “rogue regimes,” like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, and “rivals” like China and Russia “that challenge our interests, our economy and our values.” Calling on Congress to lift budgetary caps and boost spending on the military, Trump said that “unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.”

Daniel Delagardelle